Doctrine matters. Regardless of the common seeker-driven battle cry that “doctrine divides” or “Jesus didn’t die for correct theology,” the reality is that doctrine matters. In spite of the postmodern attempt to eschew the importance of doctrine and of truth, the genuine Christian knows that, without a right knowledge of the truth, a person cannot be saved. Doctrine matters.
Doctrine matters because, encompassed in that word, “doctrine,” we see the teaching and the knowledge of such things as the nature and character of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We see the truths of justification, regeneration, repentance and sanctification. Where would we be, for example, without the amazing doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement? In a 2003 article, Dr. Al Mohler defined doctrine thusly:
Doctrine is, quite literally, the teaching of the church–what the church understands to be the substance of its faith. It is no substitute for personal experience. Evangelical Christians have given clear witness to the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ, but that personal faith is based in some specific understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross. After all, we do not call persons to profess faith in faith, but faith in Christ. (Source)
Sound doctrine has been under attack from the beginning. It is evident even in the New Testament epistles that false teachers already had begun to rise up and challenge the precious, vital doctrines of the Church. Perhaps this is why Paul so often stressed the importance of sound doctrine, especially in his pastoral epistles:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Tim. 4:6)
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Tim. 6:3–5)
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim. 4:2–4)
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)
Even our Lord, with His final words on this Earth, commissioned His disciples to go into all the earth, make disciples, and teach them to observe all that He had commanded (Matt. 28:20). Jesus Christ taught doctrine. Would it not be expected per this command, then, that Christians would continue to teach those truths? Dr. John MacArthur has said,
God holds us accountable for what we believe as well as how we think about the truth He has revealed. All Scripture testifies to the fact that God wants us to know and understand the truth. He wants us to be wise. His will is that we use our minds. We are supposed to think, meditate, and above all, to be discerning. (Source)
Ultimately, doctrine may indeed divide, but it will divide because the truths taught by Jesus Christ are not always palatable to the prideful human heart and mind. Those who express contempt for sound doctrine may actually be revealing a graver condition of their heart. Dr. Mohler’s article continues:
Those who sow disdain and disinterest in biblical doctrine will reap a harvest of rootless and fruitless Christians. Doctrine is not a challenge to experiential religion; it testifies to the content of that experience. The church is charged to call persons to Christ and to root them in a mature knowledge of Christian faith. (Source)
Doctrine matters because it is not merely enough to intellectually assent to a belief in Jesus. Did not the brother of our Lord state that even the demons believe and tremble (Jas. 2:19)? Dr. MacArthur has stated that, “Sound, biblical doctrine is a necessary aspect of true wisdom and authentic faith.” The content and the substance of one’s faith matters. If it did not, then countless men and women throughout Church history died in vain as they firmly opposed what they knew to be false doctrine. If doctrine did not matter, then there would be little need for that treasured book, the Bible.
To be sure, a full and complete understanding of every great truth is not necessary before one can be saved. Mere “head knowledge” of correct doctrine cannot save either. Nevertheless, without correct doctrine about the person and work of Jesus Christ, one cannot be saved. Without a proper understanding of who Jesus Christ is, namely, the Lord of all and the Savior of men, salvation simply is out of reach.